By Muri Assunção

The governor of North Carolina signed an executive order on Friday protecting LGBTQ youth from the potentially harmful and widely debunked practice of "gay conversion therapy."

Roy Cooper, a Democrat, signed the order to target the now-discredited misconception that someone's sexuality can be changed by psychological, medical or spiritual interventions.

Executive order No. 97 declares that "being LGBTQ is an innate quality and is not a disease, disorder, illness, deficiency or shortcoming."

The order forbids funds controlled by the state to pay for such therapies, which as defined by the order, attempt to "change and individual's sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions of feelings towards individuals of the same sex."

Allison Scott, the director of policy and programs at the Campaign for Southern Equality, praised the effort, saying that the governor's order will create a safer environment for the state's LGBTQ youth.

"Young LGBTQ people who endure 'conversion therapy' are at an immensely higher risk for depression and suicide than those whose identities are affirmed, a primary reason that we must do all we can to end this dangerous pseudoscience," Scott said in a statement.

The American Psychiatric Association sees "no credible evidence" to support it, and the practice has been opposed by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, among other organizations.

In 2001, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher issued a report stating that "there is no valid scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed."

The National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, a recently released study on LGBTQ youth, found that 42% of the nearly 35,000 respondents who underwent conversion therapy, reported a suicide attempt in the previous year; and 57% of transgender and non-binary youth did the same.

"No child should be told that they must change their sexual orientation or gender identity," the executive director of Equality North Carolina, Kendra Johnson, added. "We're grateful that Governor Cooper agrees. We are committed to ending this debunked practice and will work for statewide protections."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and presidential hopeful, who has pushed for efforts to end the "dangerous" practice, celebrated the governor's decision. "Conversion therapy is cruel and inhumane. I'm glad to see North Carolina ban it. I won't stop fighting till every LGBTQ+ American is free to be who they are and live without fear or discrimination," she wrote on Twitter.

Executive orders only apply to state government, but similar legislation has been introduced to the state's legislative chambers earlier this year. The executive order was viewed as a step in the right direction, according to activists.

"We look forward to working alongside our partners to pass a law -- similar to those enacted in 18 other states -- that would cover all state-licensed professionals working with minors," JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs at the Human Rights Campaign said in a statement. "For North Carolina to be a leader in the South, the governor and the legislature must prioritize full LGBTQ equality."

(c)2019 New York Daily News